This blog is a collection of a young woman's random thoughts, many tangents, and occasional
short stories and novel excerpts. Stay tuned for plenty of bull and brief moments of brilliance.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Beauty in the Little Things: Wedding Day

Our wedding day this past Friday, from start to finish, was perfect. Perfect is a word that gets thrown around a lot and is rarely genuinely meant, but I'm not kidding when I say every tiny aspect of this day was everything I had wanted and more. Since it's been a couple days, I decided to write down my favorite 30 moments from the entire experience. Photos from: Adam Wesley, Ceci Lamonica, Angela Kroner, and myself.

Little things and moments I’ll never forget:
1. Waking up and running around the hotel room yelling, “It’s my wedding day!” and dancing in the shower.
2. Being all dolled up and in my wedding dress while me and all the bridesmaids sat around the hotel room eating Pizza Lunchables.
3. Walking up to Luke and seeing him in his suit for the first time, and getting to see his face when he saw me.
4. Stepping into the venue for the first time and seeing it sunny, beautiful, and everything I had possibly envisioned.

5. Having my dad walk into the venue and seeing me in my dress. He started walking, had to pause for a moment to gather himself, and then gave me the biggest hug.
6. Joe asking the photographer to take pictures of him chasing geese.
7. Seeing Nick dance with Maisey in the empty dance floor pre-ceremony.
8. Luke coming into the kitchen, where I was hidden away pre-ceremony, and having a moment just the two of us before the commotion. He was sitting on a cooler and I was next to a mop bucket. I grabbed his hand, and he smiled into my eyes. It was all I needed.
9. Nick and I sharing a beer in the kitchen before the ceremony.
10. Standing with my dad in the entrance of the ceremony hall with the flood of sun coming in just as the large swell of the processional hit.

11. Luke sobbing when we were finally standing in front of each other at the altar. I started laughing, which made him laugh, and we both snickered while wiping away tears.
12. Looking at Soren and Maisey sitting with Kari and both of them continuously throwing flower petals throughout the ceremony. It kept me from crying the entire time.
13. Luke holding the ring in his hands but forgetting he had to put it on my finger.
14. Me trying to put his ring on the wrong finger.
15. Going up to see the reception hall before everyone else arrived and it being everything I imagined.
16. Taking a moment before the reception to stand outside in the Beer Garden, just the two of us holding each other, looking over the water and the beautiful weather and smiling.
17. Luke carrying me into the reception to “Good Golly Miss Molly” and me smiling so widely my cheeks hurt.

18. All of the reception speeches, but specifically three things:
a. Ross saying to Luke’s parents, “But I just married your kid, so there.”
b. Joe’s entire speech and me crying-laughing so hard my vision was blurry.
c. My dad making his cringe face when telling embarrassing stories about me.
19. Our first dance and talking about the most random mundane things while it happened, which somehow made it more beautiful.

20. My dad and I talking about pop culture references during our father-daughter dance.
21. Taking photos in the misty weather outside in my reception dress by the lake.
22. Singing “Make You Feel My Love” to Luke while we slow danced and him tearing up.
23. Dancing hard to all the early 00’s music with my friends.
24. Knee-slapping circle to “Danger High Voltage” and most people being frightened and confused.
25. Epic late-night photos with the photographer completely changing my mood when I was getting annoyed about a couple small things. It was so romantic and intimate and perfect.
26. Having a drink of scotch with the photographers in the kitchen before they left.
27. The dedication to my mom with “Seasons of Love,” and the giant swaying circle of every wedding guest singing along together. It was more beautiful than I could have anticipated.
28. Everyone dancing really hard to “SOB.”
29. Coming back to chocolate covered strawberries and champagne when we got back to our hotel room.

30. Sitting on the floor of our hotel room, laughing about the day, and sharing a bowl of chili from a small shop around the corner before going to bed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Are We There Yet: A Summary of The Past Year

Today we’re less than one month to the wedding and as the recent weeks have started passing, almost everyone is asking me the same thing, “Are you getting nervous?”

It’s a loaded question. Am I nervous to marry Luke? Lord, no. Am I nervous about the wedding day? I mean, vaguely, in like the “I hope it doesn’t rain because it would make the day easier” and the “I hope I don’t break out a couple days before and that my dress looks bomb.” But because of my anxiety disorder, anticipation is my worst enemy.

This is one of the big reasons I insisted on getting everything done months in advance. Short of finalizing seating charts and printing a couple signs, everything was done for the most part by mid-June. Luke has to take a couple boxes of wine and some signs to my parents this weekend, and I’m getting my last haircut before the wedding this weekend as well. My bridal shower and bachelorette party were last weekend and Luke’s is this. After that, we’re more or less waiting for the days to pass.

This summer has been an odd one, and the past year has just been kind of a fucked up series of events one right after another. Last year during Labor Day weekend, I had some jaw pain and went to my then dentist, who said I needed a root canal even though there was no evidence of needing one on my x-rays. Following this like a week before Luke proposed, I had the root canal but the pain never went away. I spent that fall being over prescribed amoxicillin and going from specialist to specialist, until they found out it wasn’t a tooth problem but TMJ disorder and started me on physical therapy.

Shortly after I started the therapy to loosen my jaw, the over prescription of amoxicillin essentially ended with me being poisoned in the early winter and my being in the hospital until the day before Christmas Eve. The early part of 2016, January-February, was me getting not one but three reinfections. Another specialist was thrown into the mix and nearly every morning that I woke up, I was coated in a thick layer of fear. I lost a lot of weight, weight I still haven’t gained back, and the stress made my TMJ worse. In April I had a really bad bladder infection that led to another ER visit and months of following bladder spasms (all of that happened days before my best friend’s bridal shower and bachelorette party I had planned in Iowa).

Around this time as well I noticed my hair was starting to fall out, and likely was due to the extreme illness at the beginning of the year. Almost 6 months after not being sick, I’m still losing hair on a daily basis and while others can’t really tell, I can feel my ponytail getting smaller. I have about another 2 months or so that I should expect hair loss as new hair is slowly growing back in and am just desperately hoping nothing too extreme falls out before the wedding. I hope my hair stylist on Saturday can give me good news. My best friend’s wedding, for which I was the maid of honor, was also at the end of May. During this entire time as well, I was working to get everything wedding related done as quickly as possible for my own wedding and experiencing a doubling of my workload at work.

June 1st I came home to find out we had to move suddenly from a house I loved. The next weeks were spent finding a new place (which I do honestly love more), trying to figure out money in the midst of recovering financially still from being sick and paying for a wedding, and packing. In July we moved, and shortly after Lucy got sick again. After a month and a half of medication and follow-up tests, luckily she didn’t have stones and finally got better. This month has been last minute minor wedding things and attempting to relax.

The entirety of this year, my anxiety has been on high alert. I can start sobbing at the drop of a hat and my body dysmorphia, as previously expressed, has also been all over the place. I find myself visibly tensing at the most mundane things and can go from happy to freaking out with very little transition. Things are starting to settle in the past month, but it’s almost like after a thunderstorm when you see the random pangs of lightning in the distance even after the storm has passed. Some days are still challenging.

So no, wedding planning has been fine, if anything it’s been the one nice distraction in an otherwise shit year. The one good thing I’ve had to look forward to is this goddamn wedding. It’s kept me going. I chuckle to myself when people assume I’m going to be stressed about the wedding, because knowing my personality I can sort of see why people would think that, but I’m not. I think a fair number of people thought I was going to be a bridezilla as well, and I don’t think I have been. Honestly, I’m too tired and beaten down and exhausted on a daily basis to give enough fucks to worry if the linens are going to be placed in the right array on tables. I told my bridesmaids recently, “As long as everyone doesn’t look like garbage warmed over on the day of, I’m fine with it.”

That’s the truth.

Next weekend is Labor Day and while it’s been an entire year since all of this insanity has started, it feels like it shouldn’t be here already. My wedding shouldn’t already by only four weeks away and I shouldn’t be picking up my dress in two. I don’t want to say I didn’t have the time to enjoy being engaged, because that’s life and that’s a tad whiny even for me, but there are bits of truth to that statement. Stressor on top of stressor has brought Lou and me closer together, but obviously not under the circumstances I had hoped. This summer was hot almost every step of the way, and living in homes with no consistent air conditioning didn’t exactly help my mood. Day in and day out, I tried to stay positive, smile, and find good spurts. When I think back on the summer though, I don’t have as many great memories as I did with last year’s. I remember crying a lot, being scared at everything, and being worried I was a bother. I’m just starting to enjoy this year in the past three weeks and now I feel like it’s almost over.

It’s been one of those years where you fight to breathe, fight to stay healthy, fight to keep your sanity, fight to smile, fight anything you can find to fight. After fighting though for so many months, the main feeling I’m left with is exhaustion. And yet, l I feel hopeful that the remaining months of this year will be filled with positive rather than negative.

I guess in summary I’m not nervous for the wedding, not even a little. Getting married to Luke in a couple weeks has been the one glimmering bit of hope I’ve had. If he hadn’t been here for me the past twelve months, I don’t know how useful of a human being I could have been to society. In a weird, unintentional way, it’s been one of the best tests if this is the right thing to do. Getting married at 25 is relatively young for my generation and even if you aren’t actively questioning your life choices, you wonder if this is the right time. Thirty days to go and I do not doubt a thing. Nothing has anything ever felt as certain as this.

If 2017 could be a more upbeat year for me though, that would be great.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Anxiety, Body Dysmorphia, and Getting Married

I've struggled with my body image for as long as I can imagine. At times in my life, it has been all-consuming, taking up most of my day’s thoughts. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I realized I was suffering from body dysmorphia. I never altered my eating habits drastically, but the sight of my body in a mirror passing by would make me want to cry.

The last time it was at its worst was when I was a senior in college. I had gained some weight from a previous relationship (maybe ten pounds in total) and none of my clothes fit me anymore. In a fit of panic, I started staring at my body daily. I started to calorie count, a practice I still do today but in a healthier way, in an attempt to help me lose weight. However, if you’re in college, busy, and just starting with counting, it’s going to be sporadic so the weight was coming off very slowly. The weight was falling off but I couldn’t see it. I worked in a gym at a smoothie bar, and I would take long bathroom trips so I could run into the locker rooms and weigh myself. I would stand in front of the mirror with my shirt raised, poking and prodding at my skin.

Only once I lost the full ten pounds did my body dysmorphia calm down, though it’s never disappeared. Over the years I’ve started to eat healthier and look heathier overall as a result. Some days I’m confident, other days less so. My greatest tool to combat my obsessiveness, oddly enough, is photographs. Photographs cannot lie to you; they aren’t trying to trick your brain and they aren’t going to change each time you look. So I take pictures, not for any romantic reasons or for others, but for myself and my own confidence. And it was working for the most part.

Ever since we got engaged, I was worried my body dysmorphia would kick into hyper-drive, but for a while it wasn’t happening. I was grateful. Like anyone with anxiety, I’m more or less constantly waiting for it to flare up like a bad knee. For the most part through early engagement, I wasn’t overly stressed. My plans were all falling into place and I felt on top of everything. For once, I felt like I was going to get through a major life event without a meltdown.

Everything changed when I got c-diff in December.

When I left the hospital, Luke looked at me with a look of fear and concern. My cheeks were sunken in, my ribs were showing, and I had somehow lost ten pounds in three days. I remember his words well: “You look gaunt.” They stung.

He, the concerned and loving partner he was, went out and bought high protein shakes and powders and cookies in an attempt to get me to gain the weight back. But as anyone who has ever had stomach issues before can tell you, eating is usually the last thing on your mind because you’re constantly in pain. Each time I would get hungry, the window would last mere minutes and I would attempt to eat as much as I could keep down. My body never fully recovered each time and I relapsed with c-diff two more times. It took almost two and a half months for me to gain back five of the pounds I had lost.

After a couple days home post-hospital, I was well enough to stand up and look at myself in the mirror for the first time. I stared at my naked body and was shocked; I had never been this skinny in my life. And I liked how I looked. I spent the next couple weeks marveling at how thin my arms were, how flat my stomach was, and how much of a thigh gap I had. A small part of me loved how long it took to regain the weight, but I knew logically there was no way I could ever sustain looking like this without drastically and dangerously altering my eating habits. That I had no desire to do.

It was a weird combination of emotions, knowing being this thin somehow put my body dysmorphia on hold, knowing how fucked up that was as an overall concept, and also knowing the bigger truth: the weight would come back and I would be sad again. I had just become okay with how my body looked pre-c-diff and suddenly I had been offered a body I’d always wanted. It’s like being handed a puppy and being told you don’t get to keep it forever. Not in years had I dealt with gaining weight and I knew I would not react well to it, but something else shifted drastically in me.

Losing control of your body, for someone with at times crippling anxiety, makes you feel like you’ve lost control over your entire life. I began to obsess and fixate more than I had the entire time Luke and I had been together. He was shocked at how I was concerned with xyz when my body was more or less falling apart. Each time c-diff came back and a doctor promised me it wouldn’t again, I began to resent anyone who told me anything about my body. I got mad when Luke told me I looked beautiful because I was convinced that meant I looked like I had gained the weight back. Any compliment I received was a reminder there were more things I could obsess over. Photographs were no longer self-therapy but a dangerous weapon.

I have twelve pictures of my teeth on my phone because I thought my gums were receding.

I have four pictures on my phone of my chin because I thought it was getting large.

I have nineteen photos on my phone of my front teeth because I think there’s a gap forming.

I have ten photos of my hair on my phone because I thought my hair was thinning.

Every day for the past five, almost six months I’ve awoken in fear of what would make me upset that day. I send obsessive pictures to friends and siblings begging them to tell me I’m not crazy. Luke will find me crying randomly as I wonder if I’m losing my mind. And again, since c-diff I’ve had a hard time trusting others, so everyone who tells me I’m imagining it is instantly lying in my head. I feel trapped.

A couple weeks ago, Luke invited me downtown to grab a drink with him since he had been working late most of the week and we hadn’t spent a lot of time together. I went to the guest room where most of the laundry lays and started grabbing at shirts. After putting one on, I stared at the mirror in shock: my clothes had all shrunk. I put on another and same thing. Panicking, I feared my entire wardrobe was now ruined because of a freak dryer accident (we realized later that none of them had shrunk at all). Panic rising in my throat, I got on the train in near tears. By the time I got to Luke I could barely hold it together.

I remember my dirty martini was somehow sour but also too strong. The heavy taste of rubbing alcohol was not masked by the olive juice. He was being so sweet to me, touching my leg and telling me how beautiful I looked. The bar was packed that night and I needed to get out. Soon he suggested we go somewhere else to keep the night going, and I just shook my head as I fought back tears. My clothes were magically shrinking, the room was hot, and there were too many people everywhere.

When the train pulled into Oak Park, I sprinted off and walked quickly ahead of Luke back home. I was sobbing and felt hyper-aware of every muscle in my body. I went into my closet and looked at my veil hung up. I still have mixed feelings about the veil and while it looks great with the dress, it isn’t what I pictured myself in someday. Taking the veil out of the packaging carefully, I secured it to my head and went into our room to look in the full length mirror. The only thought in my head was, “My wedding dress is disgusting. This veil is disgusting. I’m disgusting.” I sat on the bed and sobbed. Luke came in and carefully took the veil off my head and held me.

About an hour later I felt numb and knew I needed to leave the house, even if just for a few moments. I grabbed my keys and told Luke I was leaving for a bit. He looked at me with such fear and hugged me close, breathing into my hair. With my depression, his fears were not unfounded, but I reassured him I wasn’t suicidal; I just needed some time alone. He begged me to tell him where I was going so he wouldn’t worry, and his worry only made me madder. Logically, I knew he was only trying to help, so I said, “Whole Foods.”

It was night in Oak Park and Harlem Ave was lit by streetlamps. I had the radio on but was only half listening as I sifted through the traffic-heavy road. As my focus shifted from hyper-awareness to normalcy and back again, I tuned into James Bay’s song “Let it Go" playing throughout my car.

“I used to recognize myself
It’s funny how reflections change”

I pulled into the Whole Foods parking lot and sat there, staring over my steering wheel, not sure of what to do next.

“So come on let it go
Just let it be
Why don’t you be you
And I’ll be me”

I wandered through Whole Foods aimlessly and remembered how bright and sterile the lighting felt to me in that moment. Grabbing a couple Halo Top ice creams, I paid and drove back. I sat outside of our house staring up at the lit window and saw him putzing around his music studio. The guilt that washed over me was unlike any other; there was no way I deserved this person. I messaged my brother and told him I felt like I was losing control over myself. For the next ten minutes or so, he talked me through it. I told him I felt guilty that Luke always took such good care of me, that I felt like I could never repay him no matter how many kind things I did, and that I wasn’t good enough for him.

“I’m just worried he’s gonna get sick of this shit one of these days, and realize it’s not worth it.”

Nick said many things, told me this was my anxiety talking and that yes, I was lucky to have a guy who will support me through everything, but not to worry about the future.

“Fuck that. Live in this moment. There’s nothing to worry about other than your ice cream melting.”

Finally, especially since my ice cream was melting, I went inside. I looked at Luke and said, “I love you, but I don’t want to talk about what happened right now. Just know I love you and I’m sorry.”

He smiled his adorable smile and said, “You don’t have anything to be sorry about. I love you too.”

This week he is in San Francisco with work and I miss him already. When I woke up this morning, I instinctively reached out next to me to hug him and grabbed the dog’s tail by accident instead. When I showered and dressed this morning, I started to cry when I looked at my stomach. I checked my measurements and sure enough, my waist was slowly creeping back to 26”. My chest started to heave and I felt nauseous. I have six photos on my phone this morning and I look miserable in every one of them. “No one can tell” sometimes helps me, but other days it makes me feel antsy. Today is one of those days.

I don't need people to tell me I'm thin or pretty or beautiful; I need people to reassure me I have control over my body and I'm not falling apart from the inside out.

Right now, I’m taking deep breaths and trying to focus instead of getting rid of this terrible pain in my back. I’m trying to remember if we’ve finished ordering flowers and if anything else needs to be done for the month of April on my wedding timeline. So far so good, we’re still under budget and ahead of schedule. Okay, I’m good.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, repeat.

I’m breathing, at least I’m trying to breathe. Some days I struggle to find my air in my throat, and other days I barely notice my breathing patterns. Today I’m hovering somewhere in the middle. Anxiety is a cycle for me, it comes and goes, and after it feeling like a near constant for about half a year, I’m ready for it to let up soon. In the meantime though, I will just breathe.

Maybe tomorrow I can ignore it again.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Why I Stopped Trying to Write and Started Trying to be Happy

Since I was in fourth grade and wrote an awful short story, I’ve wanted to write. What I wanted to write was pointless but I knew I wanted to create something. And since then, it’s been my one goal in life: get published and write something important.

My first story I ever wrote—that wasn’t from a writing prompt or lead by a classroom discussion—was in elementary school. It was called, “Friendy the Tree” and was about a little girl who was best friends with a tree. The tree started small but as the years went on, both the girl and the tree grew up together…and that was about it to the story. I remember there was a school talent show and since neither my singing nor my dancing skills were good enough to perform anything interesting, I decided to read my story instead.

I was elated to read this story I had written. I climbed up onto this stool in the gymnasium in front of my entire grade. I remember my legs were too short to reach the ground and how they dangled and swung out of nervousness over the edge. I read, as I still do when I’m nervous, quickly and jumbled together. Afterwards a teacher told my mom and me they would make my story into an actual book and carry it in the elementary school library. Jumping up and down, I looked at my mom with happy tears. “I’m going to be an author! I’m going to be a real author!”

The school never did that, of course. Why they promised it in the first place to a young, overly enthusiastic child is beyond me but obviously no one published my crap story. Why? It was “The Giving Tree;” even some of the words and passages were the same. So, one of two things happened: either no one noticed the exact connection but they could tell the story was awful or they didn’t want to hurt my eight year old feelings and decided not to bring it up.

As I got into middle and high school I continued to write short stories and horrible poetry, as most angst-ridden teens do. In high school I started mapping out what I thought would be my first book someday. Years later though, I abandoned the book because I realized the plot was contrived to the point that salvaging any major themes was useless. Yet even then, leaving high school I knew I wanted to be one thing: an author. I knew I wanted to go to the University of Iowa and wanted to apply someday for the Writer’s Workshop graduate program (I abandoned that dream after reading horror stories). I applied to be a part of the Writer’s Living Learning Community at Iowa my freshman year and was elated to be placed on the floor. When I started my freshman year, I had this image of writers sitting around in hallways, discussing their craft and pushing each other to produce the best pieces they could create.

I wrote very little and found a lot of drama.

As I got more involved with my major I thought I would find more like-minded people and find my closest friends within English. Instead, I learned rather quickly that I hated most English majors.

Nearly every English class that I was in had at least two people competing to see who could out-asshole the other with their wit and brilliance. Sometimes, I was that asshole. I felt like I had to prove myself constantly and even if I did, I wasn’t “English-y” enough. I hadn’t read all the books you were supposed to read to be a “real English major” and didn’t know the centuries of jargon I had somehow not been told I was required to know. It wasn’t that the hostility was in the classroom but rather self-made among the students. There was elitism among students who thought they knew the true future voice of English and how it should sound. I did well within my major, garnering an English GPA of 3.75, but I did well not because of my intelligence or my expertise in the creative field.

I did well because I’m a wonderful liar and clever bullshitter.

I spent most of my time in my English classes at Iowa figuring out how to write what the professor wanted and in what style. And damn, I was good at it. Subsequently, I felt freer in my creative writing classes, where I did most of my writing. What I wrote didn’t have to be perfect or presented in a precise manner. I could create without fear of it being inadequate or too commercial. My stories got better as the years progressed and I maxed out the number of times I could take the writing courses.

My sophomore year I applied for and was rejected from the Creative Writing Track that would have allowed me to graduate with honors in English. The story I wrote was a risk I thought the administration would like (a story written entirely in second person) but I was devastatingly wrong. The response was, in so many words, “We liked your story but it isn’t our style.” I got the news while I was traveling around Europe on my semester abroad, almost five years ago to be exact. Sitting in a café in Paris, I wore dark sunglasses and let dramatic art film tears roll down my face.

I told myself I didn’t need the track to make myself a great writer and focused more heavily on my short stories. I tried a class on performing autobiography (loved it) and even playwriting (hated it). Before I graduated, I told myself, I’d figure out what I was going to write someday and make a vague plan. But as my senior year came and went, my thoughts turned to more pressing issues: food and shelter and money. I started working as a waitress before eventually moving to Illinois where I would add bank teller to my list.

When I got to Illinois, I stumbled into a freelance writing gig for a website and did so for almost a year. I loved it. There was talk about me becoming some sort of social media mind behind things and potentially running the site and I got swept up in the dream. I wasn’t writing fiction at the moment and this was my answer. After about six months though, the money stopped coming in. I kept writing for them because I told myself: if you’re writing, you’re not a failure. After about a dozen pleas to be paid and being owed almost $500, I left.

I spiraled shortly after—though if I’m honest with myself, I had been spiraling for a while—into a deep suicidal depression for many reasons. One of the biggest reasons though was that I felt that every moment I wasn’t creating, writing, or reading that I was letting the world down somehow. I didn’t understand why yet but I knew I was a disappointment if I didn’t do what I had always said I was going to do since I was a child. No one tells you that you have to fulfill your childhood dreams, but I’m a stubborn sonofabitch. My not being a successful writer immediately meant that all of that bullshit I had spewed for years had been for nought. If I wasn’t a writer what was I? What was the point to any of this?

The worst part is since graduating, people ask me about writing constantly.
“Are you writing?”
“Written anything good lately?”
“Are you still working on that book?”
“Have you finished your book?”
“Are you getting published soon?”
“Are you still writing?”


Somehow many years ago when I was young, when I struggled with friendships and felt alone in the world, I told myself: you’re something if you write. When I was depressed as a kid I told myself I was fine as long as I wrote or created. After reading Harry Potter, I thought if I could make something like this then people would love me. As a suicidal thirteen year old I thought, “What is the point of going on? What is the point to any of this?” Different answers got me through the days. And when I would come out of depression bouts my answer was always the same: write.

I think part of me thought that if I wrote some amazing book or created an earth-shattering YA trilogy I would be…something other than sad. I wouldn’t be teetering on the edge between sane and breaking apart. Creating meaningful works would make my life worthwhile and make the pain worthwhile. And that translated, in some way, to contentment. Peace, or reasonably resembling it, would emerge if I could just quiet myself and do something fucking important.

After my most recent bout of suicidal depression, my answer remained the same: create and you will find calm. I busied myself with cross-stitching an entire wall of art and tried blogging more. I read more last summer and it was all, in my mind, some sort of preparation for writing. If anyone asked me about writing, I would say I was getting ready.

Sometime late last summer though I realized I didn’t feel like writing. The truth was I hadn’t felt like writing for years. Writing fits for me have always come on sporadically and without warning. They could last for weeks or for hours. But a genuine desire to write fiction had not been with me since I was around twenty two, and maybe even longer than that. Were those genuine desires or rather stressful answers to class assignment deadlines?

Since then I’ve been trying to tell myself it’s okay if I don’t want to write. I know I still enjoy writing, but it’s more stream of consciousness blogging and personal essays. Maybe someday I’ll publish a series of essays on the monolith that is my embarrassing childhood (if anyone knows me, you know there is plenty of source material). Even just this I churned out in a matter of an hour. So somewhere inside of me exists the desire to write and create, but the necessity of it is something I’ve been fighting to force for almost two decades.

Toward the end of December, everyone starts to think about their New Year’s Resolutions. This past year I was still in a haze of c diff recovery and newly out of the hospital. But somewhere between all the supplements, I settled on my goal for the year. And it wasn’t just going to be my goal for the year, but for my life as a whole.

My new goal in life is to be happy.

There are no other strings attached to that statement; the goal is happiness. Now, that may sound like some millennial narcissistic bullshit, but it really is all I want out of this life. Even a couple times in the past few months when I’ve been sitting with people and we talk about our goals in life, I’ve made an effort to say this instead,

“My goal is to get at least one thing published, yes, but honestly I just want to be happy.”

Changing my goals has given me the room to breathe and focus on my own mental health and wellness. Your happiness is never not important and it’s crucial to remember this. As long as I’m feeling generally fulfilled in my life, it’s okay if my after work or weekend activities are mindless; not everything needs to be driving toward some divine purpose. It is okay for happiness to be the journey, the goal, and the ultimate destination.

When you suffer from clinical depression and anxiety that isn’t going to go away, it’s important to remember that happiness is a worthwhile goal. It may not get me any Ted Talk deals or movie rights, but it’s okay if your goal in life is to be right with yourself. I will never reach a point where I am 100% happy all the time or even all day. Some days feel like one step forward and thirty back. But I’m learning to live for the days where I can make it two steps forward and only one step backwards.

So far, I must say, I’m doing an alright job. And for the first time since graduating, this past year I feel like I’m finally reaching my goals.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

How I Learned to Love Myself: Sex, Strangers, and Stigma

Somehow, I’m 25. I get logically that I’m halfway through my twenties and I know I’m now closer to thirty than I am to twenty, but seeing 25 down on paper is actually more jarring than I thought it would be. They say so many people have what they’re calling “Quarter Life Crises” but personally, I think I’m safe from any giant meltdown about getting old. I have a feeling wedding planning and freaking out about that will supersede any other fear of my own mortality.
In the past five years though, I’ve learned an insane amount about myself. As the ever self-reflective person I am, my recent birthday and upcoming nuptials have me thinking about my college years and years immediately following more than usual.
The biggest, probably most cliché change in my life? Learning to love myself (try not to gag, I’ll attempt to keep cliché statements to a minimum). So, here’s a quick story of my five year (unintentional) journey to find Molly.
When I was 20, having only been in Ireland a couple months, I very much so felt like my life was some sort of indie romantic drama (to be fair, a lot of my time in Ireland reads like a plot of an indie romantic drama, but that’s another story for another time). I had a very set idea that men were not interested in me, that I was somehow oddly over sexual, that I was obnoxious and unlovable, and many more similar thoughts. Many of these “unlovable” thoughts are likely manifestations of earlier childhood abuse and being told by my abuser, more than once, that no one else would ever love me but her.
You can understand then why I had a hard time not believing her.
Growing up, people rarely used physical attributes to compliment me. I was “kind,” “energetic, “ “full spirited,” “full of life,” “witty,” “smart,” “funny.” At times, I was “cute.” The energetic stuff always felt like coded words from teachers trying not to say that I was a rambunctious child who refused to sit still and asked too many questions. Should we compliment people on their accomplishments and personality more than their physical beauty? Yes, of course. But when you find few would say you were a “pretty girl,” you start to wonder why the word is avoided.
Now no one ever flat out called me ugly—that would have been a little harsh—but the absence of physical compliments made me internalize their nonappearance. Sometimes I was called pretty or beautiful, but it more often than not referred to my soul or being rather than my looks. I was only called hot if there was something else tagged on at the end, like,
“You’re nerd-hot!” “You’re hot, but like in a different type of way.” “You are, like, hot, but not in an in-your-face way!”
You get the idea. Liz Lemon and Tina Belcher were my kindred spirits.

So by the time I hit 20, still very much so a virgin, I was convinced I would have to run through the streets naked for someone to want to tap this. I had never taken virginity very seriously (already railing against the patriarchy) and did not understand why it was something I was supposed to hold sacred. The ideas all seemed wrapped up in patriarchal religious ideals I was not sure I believed—and eventually would come to realize I did not—and so I landed in Ireland with at least one goal in mind.
I didn’t study abroad to have sex, no, but if I left still a virgin I was going to be upset. Virginity for me was a pesky clingy sticker on a CD that prevents you from opening it easily: I just wanted it fucking gone so I could get to the good stuff inside. I had calmed down with my Quest to Lose It by the time I flew to Cork, but all of it was still at the back of my mind.
Now, my “losing it” story is fantastic; I’ll tell anyone that. As awkward as any and all romantic or lovey encounters I had had up until this point, somehow the big one ended up going perfectly. I had sex for the first time with an Irishman, while studying abroad in Ireland, on St. Patrick’s Day. He and I fell together by random coincidence, a case of mistaken identity, and we started chilling together around Mardis Gras. By the time St. Patrick’s Day came around, we had been hanging out for a month and it felt right. All of it, to the light from the dark rainy streets sprinkling in through his blinds, to the way he looked at me with a perfect mix of concern and attraction.
Having sex for the first time made me feel like a normal fucking human being.
I woke up the next morning, went to a convenience store on the way home, and bought myself a croissant. I walked confidently into my apartment and looked knowingly at my roommates who high-fived me. Sex for me was not validation of my importance in life, but validation that I wasn’t some hideous unlovable monster. I was normal and the lies I had been telling myself were untrue. Molly was okay and it was okay to be Molly.
The next couple months I leaned into me more than I ever had. I talked more to people, built friendships, accidentally fell in love, and loved who I was becoming. Every bit of myself I felt on the inside suddenly came pouring out in a beautiful symphony to which I could not stop myself from listening. I traveled Europe with three friends, not enough cash, empty stomachs, sleepy eyes, and full hearts. On the plane home, I cried for many reasons. But when the wheels touched down in Milwaukee, my heart caught in my chest. I felt a switch go off I had not anticipated. A voice inside of me said, “It’s over, it’s gone, it’s not coming back.”
After coming back to the US, I dove into two very opposite relationships back to back. I loved that feeling of freedom I felt in Ireland and wanted to replicate it back in the states. Chasing it in whatever way I could think of made sense. I remember being in my shitty apartment right before leaving Cork and thinking to myself, “Remember all the things you learned while you were here. Don’t lose any of that!” Somehow though, I did.
I tried desperately to be a sorority girl, or at the very least, what I thought a sorority girl should be. I felt suffocated and unloved by my sorority sisters and drama in the house seemed to follow me no matter where I went. Friendships seemed to boom loudly and then explode without warning. I felt like a sane person surrounded by insane and vice versa. I talked to myself a lot, wrote a lot, blogged a lot. My heart and head did not feel like mine. I wasn’t depressed but I was trapped, and what I was trapped by and in what way was a mystery to me.
As that summer ended, so did my second real relationship. Only weeks before did I officially quit my sorority. Suddenly I felt nineteen again. I felt like everything I had tried to learn about myself was untrue or worse, a lie. Was I lying to myself about who I was? Why was I so desperate to try to be someone I was not?
It all kept coming back to this idea that I was unlovable.
Whatever fleeting solace I had found in Ireland was wrapped up in the glittering almost half-reality of living in a different country. Of course I could be myself there! What possible threat to my selfhood was there in a place with people I would never see again? So often we “find ourselves” in places we least expect, but when they are in places removed from the rest of our everyday life, how effective is that self-realization? Answer: not that effective. Now, before I explain how I started loving myself, I want to preface this by saying…
Actually, you know what? Fuck it. No, this is the way I started loving myself, or at the very least, started on my journey to loving myself. And I’m not ashamed of it. I started loving myself through casual sex.
Didn’t see that coming, now did you? As long as I could remember, I had never understood the heavy stigma around one-night stands, specifically toward women. Why was it so horrible to have sex with a stranger, or a friend for that matter, outside of the confines of a relationship? I had been told time and again that if I had sex randomly with someone I didn’t know well, that I’d be hurt. I’d wake up in the morning feeling shitty about myself and worthless and the more I did it, the number to the entire thing I would feel.
Sex and love have always been separate for me. Sex was sex, love was love, and if they went together that was great, but they did not need to for either to be valid. Sex being inherently wrapped up in love always felt problematic to me. Now, this is not knocking anyone who doesn’t like sex outside of relationships or doesn’t like sex period, but the implication that sex was integrally tied to love 100% of the time for 100% of people felt like a dangerous broad stroke.
This is what we’re told from a young age, that sex was bad unless you were married, that sex was evil outside of true love, that it was meant for only ___ and ___ in ___ way. Everything else was, of course, wrong in one shape or form.
I didn’t come out of a relationship running around desperately trying to get laid out of insecurity; let’s get that straight off the bat. I found myself single for a long stretch of time for the first time in a long while. It was the first time I was single since being sexually active. The first person I knew well and it happened by sort-of-accident. I call it sort-of-accident because it was one of those situations where you knew what was likely going to happen and neither actively tried to stop or initiate it. The second time I also knew the person, but not nearly as well and it took me entirely by surprise.
Did I feel bad either time? Not in the slightest, and I felt guilty not feeling guilty. I should be shattered emotionally, raw and vulnerable, but instead I felt no different than I had before. I only did it two more times and those people were more complete strangers. What I found most interesting was each time, the guys would try to convince me afterwards that they would call even though we both knew that wasn’t true. Did they think I would go crazy and hit them if this was a wam-bam-thank-you-ma’am type of transaction? That I would be offended?
I remember distinctly the last guy walking me home in the morning. He only walked me half-way home, which was awkward enough to begin with, and then turned and said, “Well, I’ll call you sometime,” and started to walk away. He paused though after a couple steps and looked back at me with this terrified expression. He and I both knew that he didn’t know my last name, let alone my phone number. I chuckled and played along, “Sure, sounds good, we’ll talk real soon.”
There seemed to be a fear in these men that I had slept with that I was going to be worried I had been used unless they validated me in some way. They had to validate me with a phone call, with a promise of a Facebook friend request, or a later outing to grab coffee. What they didn’t know was that my having sex with them had nothing to do with needing them to validate me. They were wrong.
I would leave in the morning not feeling weak or used, but like a motherfucking boss.
What I was doing was exercising an independence I had never before known. I wanted something, went and got it, and slept fine the following night. I didn’t slut-shame myself or feel like a whore, and more than anything the entire six month experience made me reexamine my own using of the words “slut” and “whore.” Even though I had always thought slut-shaming was wrong, I had inadvertently done it to myself by assuming I had to feel a certain way after having casual sex. I was placing these preconceived ideas of how a woman was to react after so clearly flaunting her womanly prowess.
Between these experiences, I was writing more. I was taking more walks and hanging out with friends more, real friends who didn’t make me question my every word when we spoke. I wasn’t walking on eggshells around other people as much but more importantly, with myself. I felt free again, and why exactly I still wasn’t sure.
Having sex with people you don’t know well doesn’t make you free, let me make that clear. It won’t make you happier or a more complete person. But for me, it made me finally untangle the idea of beauty and my beauty being controlled by another person. When I was a kid, the girl who abused me for many years held my self-worth in her hands (and even for years after). When I went to college, “friends” and boyfriends held that in their grasp. I relied on everyone else to solve my problems of worthiness instead of Molly.
I was, in those moments, entirely in charge of my own being. I realized later that that was the feeling I had so acutely felt while living abroad: the feeling of being my own savior. Independence means different things to different people, but for me it’s always been the choice to make a choice. Each time in my life I’ve lived without regrets or without feeling sorry that I was not doing it in way someone else would want me to, I’ve felt freedom.
So by the time a handsome guy with a deep, booming voice messaged me on Facebook, I had had time to sort myself out. I went into a relationship loving myself first and learning to fall in love with someone else second. And I’m forever grateful I did.
As the years pass with him, I wonder what with us was so different than the other people I’ve met and been with in my life. A lot of that likely has to do with my own maturity and what a kick ass individual my partner is, but it does come down to me. I never loved me entirely when I was with anyone else. And I realized again that I had never loved anyone else entirely before because something was stopping me. Learning to love yourself before you love someone else is an old adage that likely feels tired to most, but for me it was everything.
Now I sit here, ring on my hand, 25, at the cusp of adulthood, ready to get married. If you had told me five years ago I’d be engaged and getting married at 25, I would have punched you in the throat for lying to me. I never thought I’d be beautiful enough, hot enough, worthy enough for sex, let alone love. I’m still reminding Molly every day that she’s worthy of love, and Lou reminds me it too, but self-love is a tough journey. At 25, sitting here now, I can at least say I love who I am so far. I am hot, whether or not someone likes my Instagram selfie. I am beautiful and I am worthy and not because anyone told me I was.
I am all these things because I tell myself I am. That is all that matters.